Photo: A motorcycle is set blaze during the ongoing protests in Iran
By Jennifer Kelly
Earlier this month on November 15, the Iranian government announced sharp increases to fuel prices and a fuel rationing plan which would limit purchases of fuel for private vehicles to 16 gallons per month. In response, hundreds of thousands of protestors took to the streets, blockading highways and destroying government buildings.
According to the Iranian authorities, 140 government sites, 731 banks, over 50 bases belonging to police and military groups, and approximately 70 gas stations were torched in the protests. The masses demonstrated clearly and loudly, in the face of brutal repression, their outrage at the deepening economic crisis and the reactionary old state’s failures to serve the interests of the Iranian people.
With an estimated 200,000 people protesting, these are likely the largest protests in Iran since the overthrow of the monarch Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
Details on exactly what has happened during these recent protests are scarce as the Iranian government was quick to shut down the internet completely across the country. There are scattered reports of police officers killed by protesters, and the number of protesters killed is disputed.
Mounting video evidence and witness testimony points to the widespread use of live rounds fired at protesters, as well as the deployment of riot police to gas and beat the masses. One government official put the number of arrested at over 7,000. While Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has been eager to condemn the protesters as brutish thugs and agents of the US, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, a report presented to the Iranian parliament said that the majority of the protesters in custody were poor or unemployed.
Many statements from the Iranian government officials make it clear that they wish to paint the entire protest movement as entirely engineered by its enemies abroad. “We caught all the mercenaries who openly confessed they were doing mercenary work for America and, God willing, the judicial system of the country will give them maximum punishments,” said Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Supreme Leader Khamenei told members of the Basij militia, who have been instrumental in suppressing the protests, that “the people foiled a deep, vast, and very dangerous conspiracy on which a lot of money was spent for destruction, viciousness, and the killing of people.”
These officials play on the just and correct hatred of the Iranian people for US imperialism and its lackeys in Israel and Saudi Arabia, using it to prop themselves up as the only possible alternative to super-exploitation under the boot of the world’s sole hegemonic superpower.
As evidence of this intervention by the forces of US imperialism, the Islamic Republic News Agency has reported that eight individuals with ties to the CIA have been arrested. Claiming that these “citizen-journalists” received CIA-funded training, six were arrested for attending protests and “carrying out CIA orders,” and another two for attempting to send “information abroad.”
It would be far from the first time the CIA has intervened in the affairs of Iran to serve the interests of US imperialism. In 1953 the CIA helped orchestrate a coup against Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in favor of the monarchical rule of Pahlavi. In 1983 the CIA passed a list of Soviet “collaborators” to the Ruhollah Khomeini administration, resulting in the disbanding of the revisionist Tudeh Party and expulsion of Soviet diplomats. In 2000 the CIA covertly provided flawed blueprints for a nuclear warhead to Iran in an effort to delay their nuclear program and justify any possible military action that may come in the future.
US sanctions have only worsened the deepening economic crisis in Iran. In May 2018, the US government led by President Donald Trump, in a reversal of previous foreign policy positions, pulled out of an international agreement with Iran that barred its development of nuclear weapons. Following this withdrawal came a new policy in November that year of “maximum pressure” via overwhelming tariffs aimed at smashing the economy of Iran and its reliance on oil exports.
These sanctions have only increased, most recently in response to the supposed involvement by Iran in an attack by the Yemen-based Houthis against Saudi oil facilities. The Iranian economy has shuddered under the weight of these sanctions, designed by the US to make the lives of the Iranian people miserable, particularly its workers and peasants.
The widespread and large scale protests did not simply drop out of the sky, and while sanctions worsened economic conditions in Iran, these sanctions only work by worsening the contradictions inherent to capitalism and semi-feudalism. While the fuel price increases sparked the protests, they quickly became rallying cries against the government, a government firmly in service to bureaucratic capitalism and semi-feudalism. The masses correctly see through the illusion that the Iranian government serves the interests of the people while maintaining capitalist exploitation and semi-feudalism. As one group of protesters chanted on video, “The supreme leader lives like a God. We, the people live like beggars.”
It is entirely believable as well that there are those within the protests who are sympathetic to US imperialism, and that CIA backed elements work within Iran to undermine the Iranian government, possibly in the hopes of a coup which would install a US puppet government. These elements have no interest in serving the true interests of the people of Iran, and would only replace one decaying state with another, this one in service to the greatest enemy of the world’s peoples, US imperialism. Every indication is that these forces are in the minority among the protesters in Iran, and that it was the masses, principally the poor masses of workers and peasants, who rose up against their exploitation.